“Mister Hadj’s Sunset Ride” by Saladin Ahmed
Card picked: 7♣. Last week I picked the 8♣. I shuffled, I swear!
From: Engraved on the Eye, also available at Beneath Ceaseless Skies
The toughest man I ever met? That’s an easy answer to give, but a tricky tale to tell.
Mister Hadj was from the same place as my rattlesnake of a Pa. Araby, or someplace like, though I don’t rightly know…
Our narrator, a young man of half-Arabian decent but American West upbringing, tells of his mentor, a man he calls Mister Hadj. This is weird west story and, within the telling, Mister Hadj’s Muslim observances have as much mystical weight as the other supernatural elements. Or, rather, they are treated with the same lightness. In a world that includes hexes and zombies, what does it matter if our hero prays to the east on his “little heathen rug”?
I never learned Mister Hadj’s Christian name, but tell the truth I don’t think he was a Christian. Not to say he wasn’t living Christianly, you hear—
Weird west is a subgenre that I often enjoy more in concept than in execution. I think it easily gets bogged down by an overage of tropes, as horror (and often steampunk) gets heaped upon a western. “Mister Hadj’s Sunset Ride” is short enough to avoid that. Our villain, Parson Lucifer, is a very bad man. Our heroes are out to bring justice. With silver bullets and Mister Hadj’s stone singing. Simple as that.
I have a confession to make. I don’t go out of my way to read diversely. My reading choices are pretty much dictated by curiosity. This goes for fiction as well as nonfiction. When I encountered a free anthology by someone named Saladin Ahmed, I presumed that the author was possibly Middle Eastern and possibly Muslim. The thought of speculative fiction written by someone of that background intrigued me. What would that author bring to his stories? So, here I am. Thankfully, Mr. Ahmed is a great teller of tales.